Step by step: Dance South Studio marks 25th anniversary

Dance South Studio competition team members pose at the end of the 25th anniversary recital. (Contributed)

Dance South Studio competition team members pose at the end of the 25th anniversary recital. (Contributed)

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

CHELSEA – Twenty-five years ago, Nena Maniscalco knocked on the Inverness Elementary School principal’s door to ask if she could teach dance classes at the school.

“I was really nervous to do that,” Maniscalco said.

But Maniscalco got the go-ahead from then-principal Teresa Tice, and her after-school classes at IES were just the beginning of her business and her journey to opening a permanent studio, Dance South Studio, in Chelsea.

From 1990 to 2005, Maniscalco taught dance classes after school in the gym and the cafeteria of IES four days a week.

“We had kids come from other schools to IES,” Maniscalco said. “Probably the majority of our children were not after-school care.”

Maniscalco had 49 students her first year of teaching and no additional staff members.

“My mom helped me,” she said. “I taught ballet, tap and jazz.”

Over the next few years, Maniscalco hired at least one more teacher and expanded her classes to other elementary schools, including Oak Mountain, Valley, Chelsea and Helena.

A decade into her business, Maniscalco paid tribute to Tice for offering her a place to teach classes by dedicating the recital program to her.

“She really gave me my start,” Maniscalco said.

After 15 years of teaching at schools, Maniscalco opened the doors of her permanent studio, an 8,800-square-foot building off Foothills Drive.

“It was so exciting to have our own place,” Maniscalco said. “By then, my business was growing and I really needed a place. It was either build a place or hang up my tap shoes.”

Now, Maniscalco has nearly 360 students, 16 teachers, 11 student-teachers and she still teaches classes at Inverness, Oak Mountain, Chelsea and Mt Laurel elementary schools.

Although teaching dance wasn’t a lifelong dream for Maniscalco, it has become her life.

“I took dance as a child, but it was not like I would ever open up a dance school,” she said. “I guess when you love something, and you really love it, then your job is easy. I’m not going to retire.”

Maniscalco and her staff teach students from ages 3-18 in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, clogging and contemporary/lyrical.

Kynnedi Mitchell, 9, has taken classes at Dance South since she was 3 years old and said her favorite dance styles are jazz and hip hop.

“You get to take the moves the teacher gives you and make them your own,” Mitchell said. “I dance because it’s really fun and you get to use your body.”

Mitchell’s mother, Angela Mitchell, said she enrolled her daughter in dance because of a family member’s encouragement.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Angela Mitchell said. “It’s been an experience to watch her grow as a dancer. Watching that passion and dedication is phenomenal.”

Leigh Ann Overlaur, 13, was also 3 when she started her training at Dance South.

Her mother, Lori Overlaur, said Leigh Ann’s interest in dance surfaced during registration at Chelsea Elementary when she became glued to a video Maniscalco was showing at the school.

Leigh Ann takes tap, jazz, ballet, clogging and contemporary, but said tap is her favorite.

“Tap comes easy to me,” she said.

Leigh Ann Overlaur and Kynnedi Mitchell are members of competition teams at Dance South.

The studio has senior, junior, petite, kid and clogging teams that have won numerous awards at competitions for dancing and choreography, along with soloist, duet and trio awards.

Dance South holds an annual recital and has participated in community events such as the Chelsea Christmas Parade, Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program and the Feast of St. Mark Italian Food Festival.